Good Writing Advice: Test Voice with Visceral Reaction

Voice: it’s one of the more difficult terms to define when it comes to writing craft. Not only is it the resulting synthesis of many different elements (language, punctuation, pacing, flow, character commentary, etc. etc. ad infinitum); it varies hugely writer by writer, and often even piece by piece.

For this segment of Good Writing Advice I’m sharing quotes on voice from two literary experts that I find immensely helpful.

First, if the term “voice” is still a bit broad, consider how literary agent Jason Yarn captures its significance:

“I want an author to take over my mind. When I read most queries, I am in “agent mode,” quickly getting a feel, seeing if something is cool enough to warrant further inspection, etc. Rarely, I will suddenly realize that I’ve stopped reading in my own voice and have been taken over by the author’s.  That’s when I know it’s something special.”

Nicole Resciniti of Seymour Agency gives an even more succinct definition:

“For sake of clarity, your “voice” is your unique way of telling a story. […] It conveys a tone (dark, humorous, sarcastic, light). It is a calling card of sorts, because it identifies you as an author.”

While coming into one’s own voice is a different process for everyone, Mr. Yarn suggests this:

“…look to your own favorite authors and see not only their technique, but try and feel how they get into your head.”

Even if we can’t imitate the voices of our favorite authors (surely we do not want to; we want to create our own voice!), this practice of merely actively observing can help us get a better idea of all the intricate details that voice comprises, and we can more consciously play with those elements in our own work.

Now: when we think we’ve got it, how can we be sure? Voice is a strange, elusive creature! Fortunately, Ms. Resciniti offers excellent insight on measuring [voice’s] success:

“That is a big secret of hooking an editor/agent—cause a visceral reaction. If we laugh/cry/shudder/smile/become afraid, you have physically made us FEEL something, and that means we’re totally immersed in your manuscript. Look at your opening chapter. Is the writing tight? Does your voice pop off the page? Do you make the reader FEEL?”

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4 thoughts on “Good Writing Advice: Test Voice with Visceral Reaction

  1. It all comes down to suspension of disbelief. If we take the ‘voice’ of the narrator as the observer, we must be believable, as must we be when we write in the first person. We must be aware of habits, customs, age and prejudices, to name but a few.

    If we take the position of the superior narrator, judging our characters from a higher moral standpoint, our narrative becomes unsustainable in anything but the shortest of stories.

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